Low Voltage Atheist

Recently, I was unsuccessful in an attempt to surf the web for a particular article by George Will. I did, however, run across a question someone posted concerning his religious affiliations. As it turns out, he is a self-described “amiable, low voltage atheist.” I was a tad surprised to hear that, but it got me to thinking about my own atheistic friends.

I asked myself this question. Are they George Will types? In other words, are they amiable, low voltage atheists? To answer that, I first had to arrive at some sort of definition for the phrase. It was not particularly easy, but here goes.

Does God Exist?

If I understand Will correctly, his form of atheism is grounded in his conservative world view. He does not ask the question, “Does God exist?” Rather, he asks, “Why does anything exist?” That, in itself, is an intriguing query. It’s one that prompts many of us to answer, “God.” Things exist because of God.

Will says this answer has no hold on him. Yet, as a conservative, he subscribes to William F. Buckley’s thinking that, “A conservative need not be religious, but he cannot despise religion.” He says he has a deep respect for religion as well as deeply religious people (he’s actually married to one). He has been quoted as saying, “The great religions reflect something constant and noble in the human character, defensible and admirable yearnings. I am just not persuaded. That’s all.”

Getting back to my own friends who hold that there is no God, I guess I have a hard time contrasting them against the prism of George Will’s amiable, low voltage atheism. Unless one could plumb the depths of their psyche, they seem almost impossible to analyze—as it is with anyone’s deeply held beliefs. Still, I try.

Faith in Some Deity

It seems to me that my godless associates in life tend to run the gamut. I suspect that at least one or two of them would, indeed, fit the Will mold. They respect those of us who are, in fact, believers. They just don’t buy into it themselves. Some even see the benefit of a society that is grounded by a faith in some deity or another.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who think we religious sorts are the bane of society. We hold them back from the greater freedoms in life. From my perspective, I tend to agree with Jesus on this point. He said, “You are the salt of the earth.” The understanding is that salt, particularly in Jesus’ day, was a preservative. Without salt, things went bad. It is my view that, if we religious types weren’t around, things would go to hell in a handbasket.

I know many of my nihilist friends probably scoff at such a theory. They think religion is retrograde. But I suspect there are some who have a tendency to agree with me—even if they don’t believe in a supreme being. They are amiable and low voltage atheists.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]

Some Wish

I usually head back the place of my birth at least once or twice per year. It’s only a four or five-hour drive, so when I have an occasional free weekend, I try to head in that direction. The last several times I went, I stayed at the home of some longtime friends.

The last time I trekked to those northlands, I noticed a plaque on one of their walls. The first few times I passed by it, I didn’t give it a second glance. Then, all of a sudden, it seemed to jump out at me. As I recall, the wording went something like this:

            Some want; Some wish; Others make it happen…

When it finally grabbed me, I stopped dead in my tracks and read it over two or three times. As I let it sink in, it dawned on me that the friends in whose home I was visiting were of the third variety. Ever since I’ve known them, they have been people who make it happen—or, at least, try.

Cause Me to Pause

That characteristic is one I recognized in them long before I saw the plaque on their wall. I’ve always admired that quality which is evident in their lives. What their plaque did for me was cause me to pause and ask myself where I stood.

Do I simply want things or wistfully wish for them? Or do I—as do my friends—make things happen? As I stood before that plaque and read it again, it became a sobering thought residing deep in my soul. After that, I didn’t pass that sign again without reading it and allowing it to sink ever more deeply into my psyche. 

As I consider my options in life, it seems to me that simply wanting or wishing for something important is not viable. Being someone who makes it happen is the only way that makes sense for me. On the other hand—and it’s a big hand—attempting to make something happen makes you vulnerable.

Whatever “It” Is

If you’re out to make it happen—whatever “it” is—your attempt will necessarily cause you to take risks. Either you’re risking your reputation, your riches, or your relationships (among other possibilities). One of the largest risks is the risk of failure. I detest failure.

There have been many things I’ve refused to attempt over the years because I was afraid to fail. The plaque on my friends’ wall reminded me of that. It also caused me to think about the fact that the most successful people are usually ones who have failed many times prior to their biggest successes. Investments—whether of time, money, or energy—are ripe for failure.

It’s recorded in Scripture that Jesus once told a young, rich man to invest in heavenly things. His admonition included a guarantee that those kinds of investments “never fail.” We should definitely invest in sure things such as God’s Kingdom. Making it happen in conjunction with God’s will is a no-miss proposition. Try it!

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]

Beyond Perfection

I happened to catch part of an exposé on AXS TV that was featuring Donald Fagen and the late Walter Becker. If you’re a music fan, you might recognize their names as the central figures in the band, Steely Dan. The exposé was focusing on their album entitled Aja—released in 1977.

I love watching how professional musicians work. It’s fascinating to see how some of the great recordings were developed. This piece was no exception.

It Felt Natural

I was taken by the comments of one of the studio musicians who performed on Aja. As he described the process, he said that they played and practiced each song until they perfected it. Once that happened, they continued playing it until it “felt natural.” He said at that point it became easy for the listener to enjoy. His phrase for the outcome was that the finished product was “beyond perfection.”

I had to think about that one for a while. Beyond perfection… How can that be? If something has reached perfection, it’s as good as it gets. How can one go beyond that? Apparently, this musician not only felt that they could, but that they did. He felt they had improved upon perfection.

I tried to come up with something to which I could compare that mastery. Then it dawned on me. I found it in 1 John 4:16. That verse contains a simple, three-word sentence that captures the same idea as beyond perfection. The sentence is, “God is love.”

Love is Tricky

Love is a tricky term to begin with. The Greeks had at least four different terms that we translate into the English word, love. Three of them are used in the New Testament. One essentially means brotherly love, another means erotic love, and the third refers to the kind of love God has for us—a perfect love—one with no strings attached. He doesn’t love us if, when, or because. He just does. That’s a perfect love.

John goes even further by telling us that God not only loves with a perfect love, but he IS love. How can that be? How can a being be love? Love is not a being, is it? Or is it?

I look at it like this. Like Forest Gump, I know what love is. I love my lovely Bride. I love my friends. As a matter of fact, I love hot dogs. These are all different kinds of love. I have learned how to love in many different ways. I cannot, however, BE love. Yet, God has gone beyond perfection. He not only can love, he IS love. I can’t wrap my brain around that, but it’s true nonetheless. 

That fact gives me hope. Way back in the Book of Genesis, we are told that we are made in the image of God. That undoubtedly encompasses a lot of things. One of those things is the potential that is ingrained in us—the potential to love others. Maybe we should try to perfect that.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]

Sunshine Patriots

Thomas Paine once wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” This was the first line in the initial volume of a series of pamphlets he authored during the time of the American Revolution. He knew the colonists would never support a revolution without some good, underlying reasons to gird them. Hence, his sixteen pamphlets simply titled, The American Crisis.

Although he was already a well-known author, he signed these works with the pseudonym, Common Sense.” It was a thinly veiled reference to a tract that had given him previous notoriety published in 1776 under the title, Common Sense.

Copies of The Crisis (as it was nicknamed) sold by the hundreds of thousands, but Paine refused to accept any royalties. He wanted them to be sold as cheaply as possible so the common farmer could afford to purchase and read them. 

Put Your Money Here

This is a good example of someone putting their money where their mouth happens to be. By the end of the war, he was penniless and poverty-stricken. He had to accept charity from the states of Pennsylvania and New York to make a new start. PA provided him £500 while NY gave him land to farm near New Rochelle—probably meager recompense for the stalwart efforts and risk he had proffered for the Revolution.

His famous line about trying men’s souls is indicative of the spiritual component contained in The Crisis. Many of his arguments were based on an appeal to his countrymen that revolution was the godly thing to do, and that England was attempting to usurp powers that belonged to the Almighty alone. This, of course, is gold that politicians mine to this day. When all else fails, blame it on God.

Following his statement about times that try souls, he made reference to “sunshine patriots.” His definition of such folks seems to have been that there are those who are loyalists when things are going well. When the sledding gets tough, they fade back into the woodwork. He also called them “summer soldiers.” These are two apt monikers for enthusiasts who are eager to vocalize their feelings but refuse to back up their statements.

At Their Worst

In an era of easily accessed social media, our world is full of these sunshine patriots. Their memes are clever, their quips are cutting, and their sound bites are often ingenious. Sometimes I find myself getting caught up in such theatrics. Bumper sticker politics, like bumper sticker theology, is fun. Unfortunately, it’s also cheap and short-lived. Still, the way our society operates lends itself to such triviality. Even worse, many seem to buy into the brief platitudes that they glean on Facebook or the back of an SUV. 

Some of the most successful politicians of our day are the ones who have learned to harness such tactics. They say things that draw people into their camp, get elected, make a bundle, and suck us dry. These are sunshine patriots at their worst. Do you think maybe we could vote them out?

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]

Sex and the Single Accuser

I just noticed a news item highlighting the fact that a well-known actor’s “groping” trial is about to begin. At the same time, a high-profile, TV news magazine celebrity is back in the public eye over new allegations of his already famous sexual misconduct. Coming on the heels of the Jeffrey Epstein debacle, these reminders of our societal trends and sexual mores have not only become somewhat commonplace, they’re downright mind numbing.

It appears as though, the more aware we are of such misdeeds, the more they occur. The question that keeps rolling around in my mind is, “Don’t these guys get it?” Even a timid, pussycat like myself has become acutely aware that there are boundaries. I tried not to cross such lines in the past, but I’m increasingly cautious about what I say and do—particularly in the presence of the opposite sex.

Learn Something

Yet, the frequency of these exposures (no pun intended) looks to be exploding in an exponential manner. Somewhere along the way, somebody should be learning something—shouldn’t they? That’s not the case, however.

Is it that everything is just more public these days? Could it be that we’re just noticing these things and bringing them to light more often? Is it that, in the past, they were always covered up? I don’t have the answer to any of these questions, but I’ve surely been made more aware of my place in polite society. How can any twenty-first century American not see what’s going on? 

Regardless of those circumstances, people seem to be throwing caution to the wind. Is it just that they have no self-control? Have they no discipline? Have they been reduced to mere sexual predation; operating on animal instinct and disregarding common sense? Or, even worse, maybe they just think they can get away with it.

Consensual

All this puts me in mind of King David of Israel. Most of us can recall at least some of his story as it relates to a young lady by the name of Bathsheba. As the king, David had all the power. He saw a beautiful woman, desired her, and took her. Scripture doesn’t give us Bathsheba’s side of things, so we don’t know how consensual their little tryst was. What we DO know is that David was the guilty party. If there had been more social media in those days, all hell would have broken loose.

As it was, David committed murder and took Bathsheba as his wife to cover up his misdeeds (see 2 Samuel 11-12). His biggest problem, however, was that God knew. That seems to be the problem with his twenty-first century counterparts. None of them seem to realize (or care) that God knows. He, after all, is our final judge.

The more godless our society becomes, the more we feel like we can get away with things—not just sexual misconduct, but anything. If we think we can hide our sin, we try it. Sorry folks, but we can’t hide it forever.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]

The Church of Climate Change

New congregations pop up all the time. Well, maybe not ALL the time, but often enough. Some of the new churches are Christian while others are of quite a different variety altogether. 

Yesterday, I began hearing all over the radio and TV about a brand-new religion of sorts. Apparently, NBC has prompted its audience to come to their newfangled confessional. The confessional is posted on their website for all to participate. The lead-in to the would-be confessions is not, “Father, forgive me for I have sinned.”

Cleanse Your Soul

The exact wording is, “Climate Confessions: Even those who care deeply about the planet’s future can slip up now and then. Tell us: Where do you fall short in preventing climate change? Do you blast the A/C? Throw out half your lunch? Grill a steak every week? Share your anonymous confession with NBC News.”

So now, we have the Church of Climate Change. If you choose, you can not only join this august body of believers, you can anonymously cleanse your conscience by confessing your climate sins. If you press the “Write Your Confession” button, it will take you to a screen that offers you various categories of offenses. These categories include such evils as plastics, meat, and paper. If you click on a category, you can type in your transgression in the available text box.

As I said, it’s all anonymous. However, there’s another button labeled, “View Confessions.” This is much better than the Roman Catholic Church. The best you can do there is to attempt to stand outside the confessional hoping to get a whisper of scandal. At the Church of Climate Change, you can read the full-on revelations of these evildoers. There are no names, of course, but if you think long and hard, you might recognize the admission of one of your neighbors (or you can simply imagine who it might be).

I Hate to Walk

The individual confessions are rather startling. On person admitted, “I need to be better about using all the food I buy. Try my best but something always spoils before I get to it.” Judging by that one, my lovely Bride and I are chronic offenders. Another sinner confessed, “I commute 30 miles to work every day in a car by myself.” Horror of horrors! I hate to admit it, but I used to commute an hour each way. But I only did it because I hate to walk.

I mentioned earlier that this was a brand-new religion, but that’s not exactly true. People have been worshipping the earth, Mother Nature, the planets, and various other parts of God’s handiwork for centuries. This is merely another extension of an old theme. Worship the creation instead of the Creator.

While I don’t have a problem with taking care of the environment, bowing down to it as if it was some form of deity is a tad over the top. I seem to remember a command that states, “Thou shalt have no gods before me.” Maybe we should adhere to it.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]

Next Door Rainbow

I went to breakfast with my family this morning. The place was hopping, the food was good, and our three-year-old granddaughter kept us entertained. There’s just something about heading into public when everyone is easing into their day.

As I watched the people teeming about, it occurred to me how much I love the place where I live. We’ve got people of all sorts, colors, and understandings. There’s so much diversity, it causes me to pause and ponder the wonderment of the human race. The Lord has blessed us with such a wealth of multiplicity; it puts me in awe of the vastness of his majesty and creativity. 

The only drawback is the language barrier. On one hand, it’s pretty cool to hear the array of tongues spoken around me. On the other hand, however, it can be rather annoying to realize I can’t converse with some of my neighbors. Either they speak no English, or they can’t speak it well enough (or their accent is too heavy) to make me understand what they’re saying. To be fair, I can’t speak their language either. Would that I could.

Not a Lot Rubbed Off

Over the years, I’ve had some formal introductions to a few languages. I had 3½ years of Spanish in High School (see No Niños en la Canasta). In seminary, I received a basic introduction to Greek. In addition, my Grandparents spoke Italian around me when I was growing up. Unfortunately, not a lot of it rubbed off. What I’ve discovered in my lifetime is that I have very little acumen in the area of language (I even had to brush up on my English grammar in order to understand what little Greek I learned). 

Everything would have been a lot easier if we’d all learned the same language. That idea got messed up rather early in human history. If you read the beginning of Genesis 11, you get a quick overview of why there are so many languages in the world. Regardless of how you interpret this passage, you get the definite impression that human beings were really into themselves.

The Pinnacle of Creation

Call it pride, ego, overt ambition, or an overblown sense of self-worth; it’s quite easy to see that God wasn’t overly pleased with the pinnacle of his creation (humanity). They may have been the first survivalists of sorts. They wanted to be together in one place—probably for their own protection and advancement. The Lord nixed that in a hurry.

Scripture puts it this way; “The Lord confused their language and scattered them all over the earth.” God gave us a prismatic rainbow in the sky to remind us that he would not destroy the earth again by water. He gave us another kind of rainbow—languages spoken by red, brown, yellow, black, and white—to remind us of his power, wisdom, and sovereignty. 

When I see the rainbow next door, I’m reminded of these things. God is all knowing. If only he would let me in on the language thing.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]